A NOTE ON LUNGS
Lungs is the story of a conversation. One day, while shopping for furniture, a couple unexpectedly find themselves debating whether or not they should start trying for a baby.
Am I a good person? Will I be a good parent? What sort of world will our children inherit? Is it wise or necessary to bring yet another person into the world? The smarter you are, the harder those questions are to answer and the more ridiculous you appear for trying to wrestle with them.
The play text has no stage directions, but it does begin with some instructions for how it should be staged: “This play is written to be performed on a bare stage. There is no scenery, no furniture, no props and no mime. There are no costume changes. Light and sound should not be used to indicate a change in time or place.” This is a huge challenge for a director as it takes a lot of skill and confidence to work without the usual toolbox and to make your hand invisible. It’s also a high-wire act for the two actors. There’s nothing else but them. It’s an opportunity to see two extraordinary performers without any of the usual theatrical mechanics getting in the way. They control the pace, the tone, the journey through the play. It requires physical and emotional stamina, an amazing memory and the ability to listen and respond in the moment, not just to each other but also to the audience. In this way it’s inevitably a different show each night. It’s a living, breathing thing. It requires the audience to suspend their disbelief and use their imagination. This is what theatre does best, I think.
I’ve nothing against set or props, or lighting or sound or any particular theatrical conventions. For Lungs, however, the conversation is what matters – this difficult conversation that eventually comes to span a lifetime. To have realistically rendered sets, costume-changes and props would emphasise the wrong thing. It’s their words, their decisions, their streams-of-consciousness, their silences – that’s what matters. It seems to me that when you have these on-going conversations with people you love, it doesn’t really matter where you are, you could be stuck in traffic, lying in the bath together or waiting for a play to start. It’s the same conversation, you just dip in and out of it. That’s how it feels when you’re inside it so that’s how it should feel when we watch it on stage. It also means we can move through time and space quickly and tell their story in a more immediate way, unencumbered by the usual stage mechanics. It was written as a challenge for actors, and also a gift. I hope you enjoy Lungs. Duncan Macmillan